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IICA initiates industrial instrumentation input

The industry’s foremost automation body is invested in inaugurating industrial engineering TAFE students into its folds and building a better market for TAFE leavers, writes Sarah Falson.

A group of 20 Sydney Institute of TAFE students gathered at the Petersham College training facility on Crystal Street last month to meet members of the Institute of Instrumentation, Control and Automation (IICA) as part of a new collaboration between the organisations.

The students were nearing the end of their Certificate III Instrumentation course at Petersham Instrument School, which is held between Petersham TAFE’s Crystal Street and Balmain Road locations.

IICA provided beer and snacks to the students and performed a variety of speeches designed to introduce the Institute and induct the students into the industry.

“The IICA is a great organisation to be involved with. We have over 1,000 members representing all facets of the industry,” said IICA co-chairman and VEGA national sales manager, Craig Lingard. “Students who get involved with IICA have an opportunity to further their careers by getting their name out into the industry and networking with practitioners.”

Hands-on experience

The IICA offers Certificate III Instrumentation students free membership during their studies. Petersham TAFE is the third training facility with which the IICA has become involved over the past year. This follows an established relationship with the University of Technology Sydney and a newer collaboration with Macquarie University in Sydney’s North.

According to Petersham College director, Dr Jeffrey Crass, it is beneficial for the TAFE’s Instrumentation students to get involved with industry bodies such as the IICA.

“It is important to get industry involved in our college. It helps debunk myths and misconceptions about the industry and also helps our students with employment after they graduate,” he said. Crass also said that he feels “a sympathy for this area” which is misunderstood by recruitment agencies and is often overlooked when government funds are allocated to training facilities.

The Petersham Instrument School operates one of the only hands-on instrumentation courses in Australia, and offers students a behind-the-scenes look at process control through the ages. One of the School’s training rooms houses a variety of older-style sensors, analysers and flowmeters which help students understand the ‘bare bones’ of instrumentation.

“Old is good!” said Petersham College instrumentation teacher, William Ebzery. “This is the only TAFE in Australia that offers hands-on experience in process instrumentation. Some of this gear is 60 years old but it will still control your flow rate to a quarter of a per cent. You can’t control a process if you don’t understand your instrumentation and what it’s doing behind closed doors.”

Industry involvement

The IICA is the only body in Australia that provides a forum for engineers, business owners, students and technicians to enhance their knowledge of the industrial instrumentation and automation markets. The group was developed to keep members abreast of new trends, products and developments across a slew of industries including mining, water and wastewater, power and energy management, and oil and gas.

Run by volunteers who are invested in the industrial marketplace, IICA is involved in furthering the science and practice of industrial instrumentation, control and measurement through promoting the standardisation of measuring instruments. The group also supports improvements in government legislation affecting the practice of instrumentation engineers.

But perhaps most importantly, the Institute is an advocate for the education, theory and practice of instrumentation and control in Australia — not only for students but also for members of the industry. According to IICA president and AMS Instrumentation & Calibration general manager, Dirk Kuiper, a huge part of the IICA’s role is to help students, apprentices, technicians and professionals to further their careers.

“The IICA has always seen it as important to foster and maintain relationships with TAFEs and universities that offer courses, qualifications and national training packages with outcomes that lead apprentices, professionals and technicians into employment in instrumentation, control and automation sectors of manufacturing and industry,” he told PACE.

“Those relationships take the form of seeking to have appropriate IICA members invited to membership of university external course advisory committees, as well as inviting TAFE and university staff to join IICA divisional committees. We also work to attract tertiary students to join the IICA — including encouraging two-way dialogue with TAFEs and universities — and foster reciprocal invitations to events, functions and professional development short courses.”

Industrial legislation

IICA will continue to cultivate its relationships with TAFEs and training institutions in the New Year, and will also activate an “ambitious new strategy” which was revealed at the IICA Federal Council meeting in October 2009 and promotes the Institute’s involvement with government’s decision-making.

According to Kuiper, the Institute seeks to become more involved in national and state government policy-making in 2010 and beyond, particularly with policies that determine content input and funding for TAFE and university training packages.

“There is currently no participation from experts — in terms of parliamentary seats — who are specifically qualified in the instrumentation and control disciplines. Input to package content is from experts in other related disciplines whose primary focus is their own particular fields; these representatives view instrumentation and control material as ‘add-ons’, if at all, rather than as ‘equal billings’,” he said.

“The IICA believes there is a real case for greater inclusion of instrumentation-type content in current national training packages.”

Changing requirements in industry sectors including manufacturing, mining, water and wastewater, and energy and power mean that instrumentation and control engineers are continually required to develop new, specialist products. For example, the Government’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which proposes economic incentives for companies to reduce their pollutants, would enhance industry demand for new energy monitoring and reporting technology.

According to the IICA, expertise in new, specialist areas such as emissions tracking are not being included in the existing range of training packages. The Institute wants to work towards gaining seats on appropriate industry training advisory bodies.

“The goal is to be able to identify gaps and deficiencies in existing training packages and to recommend solutions. This strategy will inevitably require not only getting onto the right committees, but also working with all the relevant stakeholders — particularly end-user companies — to determine their specific needs, which are not currently met,” said Kuiper.

Eventually, the IICA plans to help fill trained staff gaps in industrial sectors, such as those indicated on the National Skills Need List — which specifies skilled labour shortages in industrial sectors. For example, the current National Skills Need List identifies shortages in the Electrician (Special Class) category, which includes instrument technicians, dual-trade electrician and instrument technicians, and licensed electricians.

“The fact that there are such shortages sends a message that there is a legitimate role for the IICA to become active in advocating for more instrumentation content focus in national training packages,” said Kuiper.

And in the meantime, the IICA will continue to rally national TAFEs and universities about the importance of specialist instrumentation, control and automation training, in the hope that this specialised sector will continue to grow in a rapidly-changing industrial climate.

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